Nash can still play, but Suns are done contending

There’s a modest celebration going in the Valley of the Sun because Steve Nash has re-upped with Phoenix. But what does Nash’s continued presence with the Suns really mean?

Among other things, with Alvin Gentry at the helm from the get-go, it means that Phoenix will return to the do-run-run game plan of yesteryear — but with only middling results.

Let’s take a closer look.

Even though Nash is 35, he’s still ready, willing and able to lead the fastbreak parade. That’s because during his initial four years in the league — two each with Phoenix and Dallas — he only played in 59.2 games per season, and logged a mere 21.7 minutes per game. So there’s plenty of mileage left in his legs.

Nash is not the problem. Neither is Grant Hill, who at the ripe old age of 36 also has comparatively young legs. If Nash’s daylight was restricted in his early years while he learned the pro game, Hill’s injuries limited him to an average of 22.3 games during what should have been his peak productive seasons from 2000-2006. (This includes the 2003-04 season, which he missed entirely.)

So like Nash, Hill should have some gas left in his tank.

Leandro Barbosa can run with anybody, but he’s yet to establish any sense of consistency and also remains a mistake player. Even so, he will benefit from playing on the run.

Assuming that Amare Stoudemire’s eye will be okay, he still projects as a highly flawed all-star-caliber performer. There’s no question about his talent — his quick spins, high-flying offensive moves, and steady mid-range jumpers are all exceptional. Plus, he’s proved to be a devastating force when operating screen/rolls in tandem with Nash.

On the flip side, however, Stoudemire’s work ethic is poor, he’s quite selfish, his defense is a sometimes thing, and he traditionally records more turnovers than assists. Unless Stoudemire’s sight is fully restored, and unless he suddenly matures, he will continue to be just good enough to break the hearts of loyal Suns fans.

Jason Richardson can score in isolation situations and do little else.

Channing Frye is an excellent mid-range shooter, but doesn’t rebound, bang, pass or play defense.

Robin Lopez is not nearly as good as his brother.

Jared Dudley can hit 15-footers and play aggressive defense.

Louis Admundson hustles.

The rookies are, well, rookies.

Compare these guys with the likes of Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Shawn Marion, who fueled Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offense. Those players, that coach, and those days are gone forever.

With their current cast of characters, the Suns will be hard-pressed to approximate last season’s league-leading offense — 109.4 points per game. But they should have no trouble matching last season’s sad-sack defense — 107.5 ppg — which ranked ahead of only the Knicks and the Warriors.

Moreover, Phoenix will have difficulty generating the turnovers necessary to fuel its running game. That’s because its leading shot blocker, Stoudemire, averaged only 1.1 per game — ranking 46th in the league. And Barbosa was its best ball-hawk, ranking a measly 53rd with a mere 1.2 steals per game.

For sure, Nash is good enough to single-handedly create open shots for one and all even when the Suns are forced to take the ball out of the net. But in too many games the Suns will be running uphill.

Whereas Phoenix averaged 58 wins per season under D’Antoni’s tutelage, and was always a championship contender, last season’s Suns won 46 games and missed the playoffs altogether.

Yet the current edition of the franchise will be fortunate to duplicate last year’s win total, especially in the ever-competitive Western Conference. Indeed, the best they can hope for is to battle their way into the eighth seed and be quickly eclipsed in the first round of the postseason tournament.

For sure, Nash’s prestidigitations with the ball will ensure than the Suns will always be somewhat entertaining. That’s okay, even though there are numerous other activities in the area that the locals have traditionally found to be just as intriguing. Like square dancing, playing bridge, frolicking in the Salt River, making sand castles in the Sonoran Desert, and switching on air-conditioning units.

It therefore remains to be seen just how many knowledgeable Phoenix basketball fans will be truly interested in a pale imitation of the Suns’ almost-glory years.